Sermon – Feb 17, 2019

I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings. Jeremiah 17:10

What does it mean to be blessed? Christians use that word a lot but do we actually understand its implications? I often wonder if the store clerk or waiter who cheerfully tells me to “have a blessed day” really means something by it or is it just empty words? To be blessed means to have found favor with God. Despite the popularity of the prosperity gospels being favored by God is not evidenced by wealth or status. This erroneous belief has caused much unnecessary suffering in the lives of people in traumatic or painful circumstances who feel that their suffering is punishment from God for some sin or offense. This type of thinking sees God as extortioner and reduces righteousness to currency to be exchanged for goods and services.

Both our Old Testament and Gospel readings give us some insight into who and what is blessed by God. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us that it is those who trust in the Lord who are blessed. This state of blessedness is revealed in their steadfastness when faced with adversity. Like trees planted by water who survive drought because of their deep roots those whose trust is rooted in God will not be anxious even when life is challenging.

In Luke’s Gospel we get the beginning of the Beatitudes. Here Jesus tells his disciples that God’s favor is on the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful and the hated. Apparently being blessed by God puts one out of favor with the world. Jesus goes so far as to give warning to the rich and the satisfied…those who are laughing and those who are spoken well of by the world. While he does not actually curse those who are fortunate he does warn them. The mighty fall every day. If your trust is placed in something other than God…in wealth or power…in status or one’s own ability when those things fail you too will be lost.

For much of human history we have attempted to categorize and classify people using arbitrary measures to judge value or worthiness. Wealth and social status were considered indicators of one’s worth as was race and gender. Even Christians participated in and benefitted from this obviously ungodly practice. It allowed them to exploit the poor subjugate women and oppress people of color for generations. We like to think that we are so enlightened and that we have moved on from those practices and the worldview that spawned them but the attitudes are still with us and rise to the surface in our words and actions. The poor and homeless are treated as though they do not deserve better. Health care is considered a privilege for those who can pay for it implying that the poor deserve their illness and suffering. The same is true for education. We demand that most people work for substandard wages then judge them failures because they cannot afford decent housing in safe neighborhoods. We have created an economic system where a very few have obscene amounts of wealth and a very many do not have enough.

Christians too worship the golden calf of wealth creating a false Jesus in the image of themselves…a Jesus who agrees with their politics and looks and thinks as they do. The do not recognize the Jesus of the New Testament…itinerant preacher and healer always in the company of the poor…the social outcast…the prostitutes and the tax collectors. The New Testament Jesus cared nothing for social status or wealth or for anything that might alienate one from God.

The heart of Jesus’ message in his sermon on the plain…or the mount as we find it in the 5th chapter of Matthew is that God values things differently than humanity. God’s favor rests with those whom God loves and his heart is with the vulnerable, the needy…the poor and the oppressed. It is not that God does not love the wealthy or the comfortable…the satisfied or the happy. Indeed God’s love and grace is abundant and flows forth from heaven on all because it is God’s nature to love. But those who have little know how much they need the strength that only comes from faith in God. Even those who do not have time for religious practice in their everyday lives often find themselves crying out to God in moments of deep need and distress. When we come face to face with our own weakness, our own frailty…our own failure we realize fully how helpless we really are and how much we need the love and favor of our Creator.

The trappings of a comfortable life shield us from some of the trials of life but it cannot keep out death…or illness…or sin. While one does not need to “borrow trouble” as my Mama would say, worrying about the things we cannot control, we should keep awake and be aware that the things this world values are transient…temporary. Power structures change; economies collapse…haves can become have-nots very quickly. God however does not change and is with us in all our situations…when we succeed and when we fail. It is just that most of us are more aware of our need for God’s presence when things are not going well.

This life is full of distractions…things that draw our attention from the holy pursuit of a closer relationship with God. Often like cats chasing sunbeams we extend all of our energy trying to catch something that has no substance…or seeking after power and status when what our souls are starving for is love and acceptance…by other people and by God. We have a need to feel part of something…to be connected and many people live their entire lives seeking vainly for temporary physical or emotional pleasure while the deep, lasting, life-giving communion with God is ignored or neglected. God our creator longs for relationship with us, so much so that he became incarnate and lived among us as the man Jesus, that we might know him more intimately and finally believe that God is truly with us…among and within us.

We read in Holy Scripture that like the rain God sends his blessing on the just and the unjust. But is those who seek a deeper knowledge of God and who are aware of their need for that divine intimacy that realize and live into their own blessedness. The favor of God is a divine gift that manifests itself in our inner strength… in patience …in compassion…in faithfulness even in suffering. The poorest among us can be rich in blessing and those who seem to have the most can be bereft of spirit and estranged from God.

We must strive to see the world and one another as God sees …looking with eyes of love and understanding with a heart tuned to forgiveness. Brothers and sisters…may God bless you and keep you and may each moment find you moving ever closer to that one true joy …communion of heart, mind and soul with the Real Presence of our Lord.